Iowa and Florida Ag-Industry Bills Target Animal Cruelty Investigations

by Will Potter on March 29, 2011

in Terrorism Legislation

A dead hen's resting placeThe factory farming and agriculture industries in Iowa and Florida are trying to pass two bills that specifically target anyone who photographs, videotapes and exposes the animal cruelty that takes place behind their closed doors.

In Iowa, Senate File 431 and House File 589 create new penalties for wide range of activities, including undercover investigations. They prohibit anyone from producing, possessing, or distributing a record of a “visual or audio experience occurring at [an] animal facility.”

In Florida, Senate Bill 1426 would make photographing a farm without the written consent of the owner a first-degree felony.

It should come as no surprise who is behind these bills. For example, Iowa State Rep Annette Sweeney, a proponent of the bills, is the former Executive Director of the Iowa Angus Association. And Simpson Farms, Florida’s second biggest egg producer, helped draft the language of that bill target animal welfare activists with up to 30 years in prison.

Why is this happening? Civil Eats summed it up well:

In Florida, The HSUS and other groups pushed for the adoption of the first statewide law in the country to restrict the extreme confinement of animals on factory farms. In 2002, voters there passed Amendment 10, to phase out the caging of breeding sows in gestation crates. In Iowa, HSUS and other animal welfare groups have conducted a series of undercover investigations (see the video below) to expose cruelty in the nation’s biggest factory farming state.

“There are definitely groups out there that have an agenda that don’t want animal agriculture in business and that’s not right,” said Kevin Vinchattle, chief executive officer of the Iowa Poultry Association, told the Associated Press. “I think that some people will go a long way to do or say anything to try to make a group of people look bad.”

To be clear, though, these bills are not a few extreme examples. They are part of a very long campaign by corporations, and the politicians who represent them, to demonize and criminalize their opposition.

This type of legislation has not been confined to the factory farming industry. In Utah, for example, the animal experimentation industry has campaigned to hide public information about animal experimenters, and public information about their actions. And for good reason: when groups like PETA have exposed what goes on in animal experimentation labs, it has led to USDA citations for animal welfare abuses.

Even more revealing is that the language of all of these bills is quite similar to the model “eco-terrorism” legislation that was created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate front-group. ALEC’s model legislation specifically targets “obstructing or impeding” animal industry operations (in the Iowa bill, it is “animal facility interferance”) including undercover investigations, photography, videotaping and non-violent civil disobedience.

Corporations have been trying to label these undercover investigations and whistleblower operations as “eco-terrorism,” and hit investigators with disporportionate criminal charges and sentences, for one simple reason: they are effective. While books like Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer have become increasingly mainstream, there is still no substitute, there is still nothing more powerful than showing photos and videos of what happens in these places.

And for industries dependent on secrecy and ignorance, that is indeed a threat.

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